January 12, 2009

Save Some Green by Saving Energy

James Stevenson, Extension Specialist, Urban Sustainability, Pinellas County Extension

Do you have the resolve to save some money in 2009? By adopting some new habits with regards to energy use in the home, you may find yourself a little better off at the end of every month. Savings on energy costs may be put toward efficiency upgrades of existing homes and appliances, and incentives are available to offset these costs as well.

This winter we have been reminded of why Pinellas County is so densely populated; the weather has been GORGEOUS! There have been a few days, in fact, when some of us may have switched on the air conditioning. According to UF researchers, 40% of an average Florida home’s energy costs are attributed to Heating, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning (HVAC) system use. You can imagine that research also shows that it is the cooling aspect that uses the majority of that 40%. There are simple steps to reduce the resultant cost of this use, without sacrificing comfort.

Start with your settings. If you have a programmable thermostat--and good for you!--make sure you are using it properly and efficiently. For times when no one will be in the home, have the thermostat react accordingly be either shutting off or adjusting to a higher or lower temperature depending on the weather. Temperatures at night can also be adjusted to provide comfort without running all-out. Savings from programmable thermostats have been estimated at $150/year.

Settings for temperatures have been established for optimum efficiency at 78°F in the summer and 68°F in the winter. After adjusting these settings, engage the ceiling fans. Ceiling fans need to be kept clean, balanced and working properly. It is recommended to use a clockwise setting in winter and counter-clockwise setting in summer. And, just like lighting, be sure to turn fans off when you leave the room. Fans work by cooling our skin, so there is no benefit to have them running if the room is unoccupied.

Make sure your HVAC system is running efficiently by maintaining a strict regime of filter-changes (there are re-usable filters available) and seasonal inspection/service. If your system is more than 10 years old, you may consider replacing with a more efficient system. Again, incentives are available to help offset the cost of a new system. See the references at the end of this article for more information.

Other sources of energy consumption include the 21-25% of each bill attributed to appliances and “plug-load.” As with your HVAC system, ensure the stove, washer/dryer and other small appliances are working efficiently and are used properly. Small changes really do add up! For instance, a toaster or toaster-oven would be a far better (and cheaper) option for making that cheese-toast than the broiler of the oven. Be sure to keep the lint-trap of your dryer clean and clear in-between uses. An inspection/service to the duct to the outdoors may be in order if you’ve never had one done before. A blocked duct can increase drying time significantly. As we have mentioned before, there are secret energy-saps all over most homes. Those appliances that have a stand-by mode (especially TVs, chargers, and computer equipment) are using energy as long as they are plugged in. It would benefit you to unplug them, and save 5% of your energy costs in the process. For a power bill of $200, that is $10 you have now saved.

Lighting and refrigeration account for 11% each of home energy use. We’ve advocated compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) in the past, and there are more and more varieties of CFL available regularly—one for nearly every use in illuminating the home. Always remember to turn the lights off when you leave the room.

Many families have a second refrigerator in their home. This is often the LAST refrigerator that had stopped working to its utmost efficiency. Ironically, these are often relegated to one of the hottest rooms in the home—the garage—where they continue to strain to cool a few over-flow items. Is this second refrigerator really necessary? Consider going without and you might be amazed at the savings.

Finally, an energy-bear can be found in the water heater. The US Department of Energy recommends a setting of 120°F for most homes. Often manufacturers set the thermostat at 140°F this represents an additional energy cost and can lead to scalding and an accelerated rate of mineral build-up. If you plan to be away from home for more than 3 days, consider shutting the water heater off completely (PLEASE refer to your owner’s manual before making any changes to the settings.) A blanket of insulation, if properly installed around the heater itself and the conducting pipes, will also help the system run smoothly and cost-efficiently.

Progress Energy has a list of incentives you may wish to refer to should you be interested in up-grades to your home or appliances therein. See:

The US Department of Energy provides a comprehensive list of energy efficient practices and products:
The University of Florida Family and Consumer Sciences Department of IFAS has several fact-sheets on saving energy in the home:,,

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